5 talking points from group stage finales at Africa Cup of Nations

5 talking points from group stage finales at Africa Cup of Nations
Egypt needed just a point against Sudan, but ran out as 1-0 winners, which was enough to seal second place in Group C and a spot in the last 16. (File/AFP)
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Updated 20 January 2022

5 talking points from group stage finales at Africa Cup of Nations

5 talking points from group stage finales at Africa Cup of Nations
  • Egypt and Morocco progress to round of 16, while an anxious final day awaits Comoros and Algeria

With the Africa Cup of Nations’ group stage almost complete, we ponder five things about the Arab teams’ latest efforts.

1. Egypt get the job done, but need to be more clinical

Egypt needed just a point against Sudan, but ran out as 1-0 winners, which was enough to seal second place in Group C and a spot in the last 16. It remains to be seen if finishing below Nigeria will work out well in terms of opposition faced in the next round.

It was a deserved win against a team that sat back for much of the game and did not offer much going forward. Egypt will be happy at recovering from the opening game defeat against Nigeria to take six points but there will be some concern that only two goals have been scored in 270 minutes of football.

Against Sudan, Egypt had over 70 percent possession and while chances were made, none were put away apart from the first-half header from Mohamed Abdelmonem. Mohamed Salah looked lively in flashes but was well-handled by the Sudan defense. 

Despite a lack of creativity in midfield, Egypt have done what they needed to do and have got out of the group stage. Coach Carlos Queiroz said: “The real tournament starts now.” He has a point, but Egypt will have to take more of their chances in the knockout stages or they will not be around too much longer.

2. Textbook group stage performance from confident Morocco

It has been a stress-free group stage for Morocco. Wins from the opening two games ensured a place in the knockout stage even before the final group showdown against Gabon. It meant that coach Vahid Halilhodzic could make six changes, rest some players and give others a chance to get a taste of the tournament.

Solid in defense and creating chances, Morocco fought hard when they had to against Ghana to win the big opener 1-0 and would have defeated Comoros by more than 2-0 had they not come up against an inspired goalkeeper. 

If the Atlas Lions keep going then the boss may not have to answer questions about leaving out Chelsea star Hakim Ziyech, but is sure to still focus on what is developing into a solid team spirit.

“Now we play faster and there is more movement off the ball,” said Halilhodzic. “The goals were scored by defenders, midfielders and forward, because our strength is the collective and that’s very important.”

It is all going smoothly. With Algeria missing the chance to equal Italy’s world record of 37 unbeaten games, Morocco may be the next in line as they now have gone 24 games without defeat. 

3. Sudan tough opponents, but will leave with some regrets

Sudan lost the Nile Valley Derby 1-0 to Egypt to be eliminated, but it is worth remembering that when these two teams met just last month at the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup in Qatar, Egypt — without Mo Salah and their Eurostars — ran out 5-0 winners. That result played a part in coach Herbert Velud getting his marching orders and Burhan Tia being handed the reins temporarily. This was a very different line-up and a different result.

Sudan had been vulnerable to set pieces throughout the tournament and there was always a feeling that Egypt would benefit from having plenty of firepower in that regard, and so it proved.

The Sudanese team performed creditably in the tournament overall, but they may have some regrets about the final game. They just did not ask enough questions of Egypt, and when they did find themselves in interesting positions in the Pharaohs’ half, were too happy to unleash a wild shot from long range. Egyptian goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shenawy had little to do and it was all too comfortable. 

It is no disgrace to exit the competition at this stage, but Sudan will surely regret not laying a glove on Egypt. Only in the last 10 minutes or so did they start to push forward, but it was too little, too late.

4. Do-or-die for Algeria  

Thursday evening should be interesting, indeed. Who would have thought that Algeria, the defending champions and unbeaten for 34 games heading into the tournament, would be bottom with no goals and one point from two games? They simply have to beat Ivory Coast to go through. If they do, they could progress as group winners. 

At the moment, Algeria will be happy just to progress as they have been awful so far. They seemed complacent against Equatorial Guinea in the second game and crashed to a 1-0 defeat. They have one last chance but cannot afford to mess up again. As coach Djamel Belmadi said: “We are in a difficult situation, a big difficult situation that we have not experienced for a long time.”

Now we will see what Algeria are made of. 

Tunisia are already through, but will not want to finish in their current third position as that would mean a meeting with Nigeria, perhaps the best team of the tournament so far. A win against Gambia will guarantee at least second. 

5. Nigeria and Egypt did Comoros a favor, and so can Ivory Coast and Equatorial Guinea

Anyone with even the slightest interest in African and Arab football will be aware that tournament debutants Comoros defeated four-time champions Ghana 3-2 on Tuesday.

Those three points, the first the islanders had managed at the tournament, eliminated the Black Stars and put Comoros in the running to progress to the second round. The margins were tight, as if either Guinea-Bissau defeated Nigeria or Sudan defeated Egypt then it was all over. Both lost, however.

There is still one more danger on the final matchday of the opening round. At the moment, Sierra Leone will move above Comoros on goal difference if they draw against Equatorial Guinea. But if Algeria, currently bottom of Group E, defeat Ivory Coast then it will also be over for Comoros.


Branden Grace wins LIV Golf’s first US tournament

Branden Grace wins LIV Golf’s first US tournament
Updated 42 min 56 sec ago

Branden Grace wins LIV Golf’s first US tournament

Branden Grace wins LIV Golf’s first US tournament
  • The 48-man field in Oregon competed for a $20 million purse, with an additional $5 million prize fund for a team competition

NORTH PLAINS, Ore.: Branden Grace won LIV Golf’s first stop on American soil.

Grace closed with a 7-under 65 on Saturday to finish at 13 under in the 54-hole tournament at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club. The 34-year-old South African won $4 million.

Grace beat Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz by two strokes.

“Played flawless golf, played really, really well when I needed to do something special and came up and managed to pull it out,” Grace said.

“But just what a great day, it was amazing to come here, this new format, this new everything is amazing and everybody here is having a blast.”

Ortiz, ranked No. 119 in the world, shot a 69. Johnson (71) finished four back with Patrick Reed (67).

The 48-man field in Oregon competed for a $20 million purse, with an additional $5 million prize fund for a team competition.

There was no cut and even the last-place finisher earned a payday of $120,000.

Charl Schwartzel won the tour’s inaugural event outside of London (and the team portion) and pocketed $4.75 million.

The Four Aces team, led by Johnson, won the team competition at Pumpkin Ridge.

LIV Golf also announced Saturday that English player Pat Casey has joined the series. Casey, 44, has won three times on the PGA Tour and 15 times on the European Tour, and is ranked No. 26 in the world.

He has not played a tournament round since March because of injuries.


Carlos Sainz claims maiden F1 win in epic British Grand Prix

Carlos Sainz claims maiden F1 win in epic British Grand Prix
Updated 03 July 2022

Carlos Sainz claims maiden F1 win in epic British Grand Prix

Carlos Sainz claims maiden F1 win in epic British Grand Prix
  • The 27-year-old Spaniard, starting from his maiden pole position, resisted a charging Sergio Perez of Red Bull
  • Verstappen remained on top of the title race with 181 points ahead of Perez on 147 and Leclerc on 138 and Sainz on 127

SILVERSTONE, UK: Carlos Sainz claimed his first Formula One victory in his 150th race on Sunday when he drove his Ferrari to a spectacular triumph in a furious and crash-hit British Grand Prix.
The 27-year-old Spaniard, starting from his maiden pole position, resisted a charging Sergio Perez of Red Bull, who recovered from 17th, to take the flag by 3.7 seconds in front of a record 142,000 crowd at the high-speed Silverstone circuit.
Home hero seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes took third, to claim a record 13th podium finish on home soil, an unprecedented total by any driver at a single event.
Drawing on his fresher tires in the closing stages, Hamilton resisted and passed Charles Leclerc in the second Ferrari, who finished fourth ahead of two-time champion Fernando Alonso of Alpine and Lando Norris of McLaren.
World champion and series leader Max Verstappen finished seventh for Red Bull, recovering after picking up debris and suffering a puncture, ahead of a revitalized Mick Schumacher of Haas, four-time champion Sebastian Vettel of Aston Martin, who had started 18th and Kevin Magnussen in the second Haas.
“I don’t know what to say,” said a beaming Sainz. “It is amazing. My first win in Formula One on my 150th race and for Ferrari at Silverstone! It’s amazing.”
Perez was also delighted. “It was a great comeback,” he said.
“We never gave up and we kept pushing. We kept trying. It was epic in some of those final laps.”
Hamilton paid tribute to the crowd, saying Silverstone was unmatched around the world for the scale and depth of enthusiasm demonstrated at the British event, which on Sunday provided stunning entertainment.
“I gave it everything today,” said Hamilton. “I tried to chase, but the Red Bull and the Ferraris were too quick on the straights.”
Verstappen remained on top of the title race with 181 points ahead of Perez on 147 and Leclerc on 138 and Sainz on 127.
After a long delay following a high-speed multi-car collision at the start of the race, which saw Zhou Guanyu make a remarkable escape after his car skidded upside down through a gravel trap, the contest re-started an hour later using the original grid order.
Three drivers were missing — Alfa Romeo’s Zhou, Williams’ Alex Albon and George Russell of Mercedes — as the lights went out and Sainz, in ferocious fighting mood, boldly resisted Verstappen to retain the lead from his maiden pole position.
Leclerc also made an aggressive start and banged wheels with Perez, who suffered front wing damage, and Verstappen before the order settled on lap five.
Hamilton, who had lost an early position to Norris, swept past him to the delight of his army of fans to regain fourth on lap six as Perez re-joined 17th at the back after a slow pit-stop.
In a frantic spell of action, Sainz ran off-track and across the grass at Becketts on lap 10, gifting Verstappen the initiative again, but two laps later the Dutchman slowed and pitted with a puncture.
Sainz led again as a 3.1 seconds stop for Verstappen, who reported he had hit debris, dropped him to sixth.
Amid this drama, Hamilton closed on Leclerc before, on lap 21, Sainz pitted from the lead, Leclerc taking over ahead of Hamilton with the Spaniard re-joining third ahead of Norris.
Clearly inspired, Hamilton pushed again as Verstappen pitted again before Leclerc pitted on lap 25. He returned in third, behind Sainz, while Hamilton stayed out on his ‘mediums’ and revelled in leading a race for the first time this year.
Behind him, Ferrari told their drivers they were “free to fight” as Leclerc chased second-placed Sainz, who was 18 seconds adrift of Hamilton, but warned that a swap was needed. It duly came on lap 31 when Sainz let Leclerc by on Wellington Straight for second.
This left Hamilton 18.7 seconds ahead, before he pitted on lap 34 for ‘hards’, emerging third 3.4 seconds behind Sainz, but with tires that were 13 laps fresher until a Safety Car intervention with 12 laps to go when Esteban Ocon’s Alpine came to a halt.
On the re-start, Perez surged past Hamilton and Sainz overtook Leclerc to lead again, but it was tense stuff and as the Spaniard pulled clear, the trio behind him scrapped and swapped places with ferocious abandon.
Perez muscled his way to second, Leclerc and Hamilton fought and both Alonso and Norris closed to within a second, setting up a furious finale.


Uncertain times for Al-Ahli as reality of relegation sinks in

Uncertain times for Al-Ahli as reality of relegation sinks in
Updated 03 July 2022

Uncertain times for Al-Ahli as reality of relegation sinks in

Uncertain times for Al-Ahli as reality of relegation sinks in
  • Shocked fans will worry that star players will leave and who will be the coach next season as they take part in Saudi second-tier football for the first time

LONDON: Monday, June 27, 2022 will live long in the memory of Jeddah football fans. It was a bad day for clubs in the city but it could actually have been worse for fans of Al-Ittihad and Al-Ahli.

Followers of the former may be devastated as their team threw away a double-digit lead at the top of the Saudi Professional League and a perfect chance to win a first title since 2009, but as bad as that was, at least they can see their bitter local rivals have it worse. That is because Al-Ahli are dealing with something that has never happened before in their illustrious history: Relegation.

Experiencing that unprecedented event would have been even more painful if their fans could have heard their Ittihad neighbors celebrating becoming champions of Saudi Arabia.

That there have been no such celebrations won’t be a comfort for too long however. Al-Ittihad have become used to not winning the title but this is new territory for Al-Ahli as they enter the second tier for the first time.

There is still shock as to how it came to this. From 2013 to 2020, the Jeddah giants didn’t finish outside the top four and won the title in 2016 and finished second in the following two seasons. The warning signs were there though, with an eighth-place finish last time around. There were reports of dressing room unrest; too many foreign players came in who did not make the difference and the quality of the local talent was not what it was. After goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais moved to Al-Hilal in January, there are no Al-Ahli players who are regular starters for the national team.

Coaches have come and gone too, without making much of an impact. There were high hopes for Besnik Hasi. The Kosovan-Albanian had done a great job with Al-Raed and came in last summer. Despite a slow start to the season, the management persevered with the former Legia Warsaw, Anderlecht and Olympiakos boss in the belief that he would turn things around. It was a rare show of patience by a big Saudi Arabian club but it didn’t work. Despite a fairly gentle start in terms of opponents, Al-Ahli did not win any of their first seven. There were just two clean sheets in their first 16 games but the 2012 Asian Champions League runners-up were still clear of the drop zone in early March when Hasi was finally fired. 

The replacement came out of left-field but Robert Siboldi was unable to offer anything different. In fact it was worse. The Uruguayan won the first game against Al-Tai but four points from the final six matches, at a time when relegation rivals were starting to collect points, meant that it all ended in disaster. Even so, had they scored just once against Al-Shabab in the final game then top-flight status would have been preserved.

What now? As well as the humiliation, the worst thing is the uncertainty. Nobody can say for sure when Al-Ahli will be back. If all goes well, the time spent out of the big time will be short but for every Newcastle United who bounce back stronger, there are teams such as Nottingham Forest, Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday who spend years and years down before returning, if they return at all.

Former club president Abdullah Al-Batraji wondered if there was a chance that the planned expansion of the league from 16 to 18 teams might somehow take place this summer instead of next, thereby keeping Al-Ahli in the top flight. Such hopes are understandable but the route back to the top may be a little more traditional. Like any team that gets relegated, there are questions as to who will go and who will stay — especially as funding may be reduced.

One who fans will want to stay is star striker Omar Al-Somah. The Syrian striker still managed 10 goals in a struggling team and despite being 33, is very much in demand. There are links with clubs in Egypt, Qatar and elsewhere. The forward could also stay where he is, his current club would love that to happen, but a move does seem the likeliest and Al-Ahli are reluctant to see him move to another club in Saudi Arabia. It is also going to be hard to keep hold of Ezgjan Alioski, the other big success of the season after arriving from Leeds United last year. The Macedonian has been one of the standouts in the entire league, scoring six goals and assisting in nine. Many of the other foreign players did not impress.

There may be a shake-up in the management of the club but the big question is the coach. Siboldi was put in a difficult position in his first job in the region. The Uruguayan was not the right man to save Al-Ahli and is certainly not the right one to take them back to the big time. The question of who that may be has to be resolved, and the quicker the better.

The same can be said of Al-Ahli’s top-tier status. The quicker they return the better for football in Saudi Arabia, and even Al-Ittihad fans may agree with that.


Edoardo Mortara wins Marrakesh E-Prix in round 10 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship

Edoardo Mortara wins Marrakesh E-Prix in round 10 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship
Updated 03 July 2022

Edoardo Mortara wins Marrakesh E-Prix in round 10 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship

Edoardo Mortara wins Marrakesh E-Prix in round 10 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship
  • Antonio Felix da Costa finished in second place, with Mitch Evans third
  • ROKiT Venturi Racing driver Mortara tops podium for the third time this season with victory in Marrakesh, and takes lead in drivers’ championship

MARRAKESH: Edoardo Mortara hit the top of the Drivers’ World Championship with victory in the Marrakesh E-Prix round 10 as the ROKiT Venturi Racing driver fended off pressure from DS TECHEETAH teammates Antonio Felix da Costa and Jean-Eric Vergne throughout.

Da Costa started on pole position and, after falling behind Mortara during the early stages, he clung to the back of the Swiss driver’s car as the race reached its climax. But the Season 6 champion couldn’t make it past the Venturi driver who remained unflustered on the way to the top step and his third win of the season, as well as the standings lead.

“I must admit after Free Practice 2, we had a lot of issues and I was not thinking we could turn this thing around, but I have an incredible team behind me and they managed to do an incredible job already in quali,” said Mortara. “Then during the race, they had a plan, they had a strategy, we executed it and it was perfect.”

“You have the guys putting you under a lot of pressure. I was trying to be intelligent, trying to manage,” he said. “There was a lot to manage today — tires obviously, but also battery temperatures, energy. It was very difficult. I had some issues with the car today, I was a little bit by myself, let’s say, but we did that and I’m extremely happy.”

Mercedes-EQ’s Stoffel Vandoorne was top of the Drivers’ World Championship going into the race but a braking glitch in qualifying left him down in 20th on the grid. He recovered to finish eighth but with just four points on the day, Mortara stands tall at the end of Round 10 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship.

Vergne had found himself in second heading into the closing stages with 2 percent of usable energy available before he slipped back behind da Costa to an eventual fourth position. Fellow title challenger Mitch Evans (Jaguar TCS Racing) fought from sixth on the grid to the podium with a final lap lunge on Vergne for silverware and a handful of extra, crucial World Championship points.

In the searing 33-degree heat, drivers and engineers elected to jump early for their two mandatory Attack Mode boosts with the school of thought being that it would be more efficient and effective in the long run to ply that extra 30kW through the batteries and powertrain. In the mix was Lucas di Grassi (ROKiT Venturi Racing), who battled to fifth and vital points for the Monegasque team.

Reigning World Champion Nyck de Vries (Mercedes-EQ) clambered to sixth and Jake Dennis (Avalanche Andretti) would have to settle for seventh. Vandoorne did make up an impressive 12 spots to finish eighth in the end after his qualifying disappointment. Sam Bird wound up ninth for Jaguar TCS Racing, and Oliver Rowland — who ran as high as second spot early on — rounded out the points-paying positions in 10th.

All that saw Mortara jump to an 11-point Drivers’ World Championship lead, with Vergne second and Vandoorne now third, having led heading into this Marrakesh E-Prix race weekend. Evans finds himself just 15 points shy of Mortara, with the top four breaking well clear of the chasing pack to set up a four-driver shootout over the final six races.

Next time out is the New York City E-Prix on July 16 to July 17 for rounds 11 and 12 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship. The much-anticipated double-header takes place on the streets of the Red Hook district of Brooklyn against the spectacular backdrop of the Manhattan skyline. 

Two more double-headers close out Season 8, with the London E-Prix weekend on July 30 to July 31 before the championship climaxes with a first visit to Korea and the Seoul E-Prix weekend on Aug. 13 to Aug. 14.


Riyadh to host Italian Super Cup between Inter and AC Milan next year

Riyadh to host Italian Super Cup between Inter and AC Milan next year
Updated 03 July 2022

Riyadh to host Italian Super Cup between Inter and AC Milan next year

Riyadh to host Italian Super Cup between Inter and AC Milan next year
  • The showpiece match between Italy’s league and cup winners was last held in Saudi Arabia in 2019

The Italian Super Cup match between league champions AC Milan and cup winners Inter is set to take place in Riyadh on Jan. 18, 2023, Italy’s national professional league, Serie A, has confirmed.

No stadium has yet been assigned for the return of the showpiece match to Saudi Arabia.

The Italian Super Cup, or Supercoppa Italiana, has often been played abroad and was last hosted outside of Italy in Riyadh in 2019, when Lazio beat Juventus 3-1 at the King Saud University Stadium.

The competition has for the last two years taken place on home soil due to COVID-19 restrictions, with Juventus beating Napoli 2-0 in Reggio Emilia in 2020 and Inter beating Juventus 2-1 last year at Milan’s San Siro Stadium.